The first day of this new year brought a welcome burst of sunshine to coax us outside.
Signs of life were everywhere; the daffodils already pushing up eager, quizzical buds along the verge and the narrow borders of our front garden, as we set off for a local walk in the cool, clear morning.
Upon our return, I was reluctant to forsake the fragile sunlight so soon, instead swapping my walking boots for wellington boots and sallying out once more into the garden, freshly armed with a new pair of gardening gloves that I was given at Christmas. They proved perfect for a couple of hours of vigourous activity, pulling up and cutting back much of the decaying mass of vegetation in the back borders and pulling out a few rogue brambles that still continue to show up.
Despite my enthusiasm, this was not an exhaustive sweep of the borders: it’s early yet for cutting back ornamental grasses and other less hardy plants, particularly given our heavy soil and exposed site, and I was reluctant to raze structural beauties such as the teasels so soon, when frosts and snows are still likely to return to decorate them anew.
Shearing off the soggy blackened leaves of hardy geraniums and alchemilla revealed fresh shoots pushing up already, while new growth at the base of the sedums prompted me to clear the stems from some of these plants, though I left others intact this time. The contrast between the crisp russet stems and seedheads and the fresh young whorls of green emerging below makes a pleasing sight at this time of year.
The clusters of Cerinthe major seedlings that had sown themselves at the feet of their parents benefited from clearing away the old skeletons, their fleshy leaves glowing in the thin light, seemingly unconcerned by the prospect of harder weather to come.
All throughout the borders, patches of earth appeared once more as I sloughed off the worst decay, collecting sacks full of chaff too riddled with seeds to compost at home.
A clump of Scabiosa columbaria ssp. ochroleuca was revealed to be still flowering, while our young stands of Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and the first red flowers of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ add welcome blazes of colour, particularly vivid when the sun shines.
I uncovered the first purple bud on one of the hellebores I planted last year, while the serrated leaves of Helleborus argutifolius had been graced with a cluster of pale green flowers. I was hoping to plant out three new hellebores, another Christmas gift from my mum, but they still wait patiently on the patio; perhaps I can find the chance this weekend.
In the kitchen garden, the hastily late-planted garlic ‘Sprint’ has lived up to its name in the past couple of weeks, transforming the pale pinkish claws that had curled from the seed cloves in search of light and nurture, into ranks of strong straight spears of vivid green.
I left the garden as the sun moved off, the ‘good’ ache of hard work after an indolent few weeks accompanying me through the evening. The borders are still not bare, but there is space for the spring bulbs to shyly peep through now. As well as showing off some winter treasures, I also revealed quite a few ground weeds that have thrived in the mild wet weather – still plenty of work to tackle on our next dry weekend.
I hope that the New Year has begun brightly for you, full of promise for a bountiful year ahead.